Let misty autumn be our part!
The twilight of the year is sweet:
Where shadow and the darkness meet
-Ernest Dowson, Autumnal
For the past three months I have lived as an Episcopal Service Corps member at St. Hilda’s House, a former convent of deaconesses and later Anglican nuns, in the heart of New Haven and nearby the Yale campus. Sharing the house with six other interns and living in intentional community, our rule of life obligates us to keep the Daily Office of the Church and pray Morning Prayer in common in the lady chapel of Christ Church, which adjoins our house. We then go our separate ways, “through the gates, and into the city,” serving at various nonprofits in the greater New Haven area. We recollect in spiritual direction and theological reflection on Fridays, and our week both culminates and begins again in the celebration of the Sunday morning Eucharist and the night prayer of the Church, Compline.
It is in this rhythm of daily prayer and work, the Office and the Mass in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, that my own sense of spirituality and vocation as a postulant for holy orders has been profoundly deepened in these past months. Marking the seasons of the liturgical calendar -- the feasts of the saints and the fasts -- with the frequent changing of colored altar frontals and tabernacle veils is a dramatic invitation to live in God’s time and peek beyond the veil of the present and glimpse a sliver of eternity.
This was most apparent when Autumn finally reached New Haven as October turned to November, and the Church catholic marked the little triduum of Allhallowtide -- the three holy days of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls. Traditionally, November was a time to remember the faithful departed, those we love and see no longer, who in death continue their journey into a sweeter and clearer contemplation of the beatitude of God.
The appearance of unbleached beeswax candles and black vestments at the solemn requiem for All Souls was an experience with which few in the Episcopal Church today are familiar. Our funerals today are generally celebrated in white vestments, and the Paschal Candle is lit to remind us of our ultimate hope in the Resurrection. But the Church clothing itself in black and great solemnity on All Souls’ was not about wallowing in hopeless grief -- instead, it was a startling and necessary reminder that even our deepest pain, mourning, sorrow, grief, and loss are shared in solidarity by Jesus -- who blesses those who mourn, and comforts them, even as we gather around the catafalque. The requiem was a reminder that the day will come when every tear will be wiped from every eye, but even as we wait in expectant hope we often experience this life as a “vale of tears” -- and yet, in Christ and that great cloud of witnesses called the Communion of Saints, we are never alone.
Fall is a nostalgic time for me. It reminds me of beginning school and past hopes and expectations -- it reminds me of old friends and family members, living and dead, whom I love and see no longer. And that little triduum seems to sum up all those feelings and carry them to the throne of God where they are accepted and validated in mercy and compassion. Though we see through a glass darkly, we know that in Christ nothing is ever lost. No one we have ever loved, no hope we have ever held, no dream we have ever clung to is irrevocable -- it will all be raised up again and redeemed. As the bread is broken each day at the altar, and the cup is poured out, we contemplate in the Eucharist that what appears as death is, in fact, already the dawning of that great day when we will hear the words, “Behold, I make all things new”